Subject: US ready to help E. Timor refugees return

Indonesian Observer 6th October 1999

US ready to help E. Timor refugees return

JAKARTA (IO) — The American government is ready to help refugees from East Timor return to their homeland in cooperation with international organizations such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other private institutions.

"We can provide them basic commodities and security protection to enable them to return to East Timor, if they like," Deputy US Secretary of State, for Human Rights, Harold Hongju Koh, said in Kupang yesterday. He made the offer after meeting with East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) governor, Piet Alexander Tallo.

Koh was accompanied by Director for East Asian and Pacific Planning and Policy, Karen Brooks, and Second Secretary for Political Affairs of US Embassy, Ian McCary.

Koh, a Korean-born US diplomat, said that the US agreed to send back the refugees to their home towns in East Timor after US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright and Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas held a meeting at UN headquarters in New York.

Antara quoted Koh as saying that during the meeting in New York, Ali Alatas called on Albright to visit East Timor as well as NTT where most of the refugees were beinh housed, and to see their conditions.

"Today we have seen them. We are ready to protect them so that they can live peacefully in their own towns again," Koh said, adding that the US government had high regards for Indonesian efforts to send back many of the refugees to East Timor without any intimidation.

"If they want to stay in any part of Indonesia, we have no right to urge them to go back to East Timor," he added.

Meanwhile Governor Tallo said that, on Friday (October 8th) his administration will send back around 500 refugees who are now camping in Kupang living in large tents erected for them. "We really hope that the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) will also give their support and provide security for anyone who wants to go home," he said.

Confiscated firearms After the meeting with Tallo, Koh and his staff went to NTT military headquarters in Kupang to view firearms and other sharp-pointed tools, confiscated by the Indonesian police from the various militia groups.

The firearms included 11 semi-automatic AK-47, several US-made weapons such as M-16 rifles and grenades, around 50 built-up pistols and an assortment of ammunition.

When Koh and his staff met with the refugees at Kupang soccer field, many told him that they wanted to go home as soon as possible, though most of their houses and rice-fields had been set ablaze during clashes between pro-independence and pro-integration factions.

Good management Meanwhile in Jakarta, Minister of People’s Welfare and Poverty Eradication, Haryono Suyono, said he will sign a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Development Program, UNHCR and other fund institutions which have assisted refugees in East Timor as well as those in West Timor in order to bring about better cordination with the agencies.

"On Friday, we will see one group of refugees amounting to 500 people return to Dili from Kupang. This will be properly managed, and they will be guaranteed security, with the co-operation of the Indonesian government and international institutions such as UNDP, UNHCR , World Food Program and UNICEF ," he said.

Chartered Hercules planes will be used for the flight from Kupang to Dili that have been arranged by the Transportation Ministry.

The Minister also disclosed that the Social Ministry and World Food Program will provide rice and adequate staple food for the refugees. Meanwhile, the Public Works Ministry and UNHCR are also taking necessary precautions to avoid the spread of illnesses and diseases due to the rainy season in the refugee camps.

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